By Raymond de Frel
December 5, 2007
It used to be relatively simple. Of course it was clear for any Belgian to see: surely Holland was the country with the real drugproblem. Be it a problem that was partly caused by Belgian customers. As long as this problem didn’t move towards Belgian territory, the Belgians were very happy to have their users supplied while leaving the Dutch with the burden and downsides of the massive drugtourism.
But times change. National cannabisproduction in Belgium is on the rise. The problem has shifted to just around the corner as Belgium too is the hostage of a halfhearted drugpolicy in which cultivation and use can be prosecuted, while mere possession of maximum 3 grams of softdrugs will not be prosecuted.
During a bilateral conference of the Institute for Social Drugresearch (Instituut voor Sociaal Drugsonderzoek) scientists, police- and justice-officials, politicians and social workers gathered in Ghent for two days to take a closer look at the illegal cannabiscultivation. Investigative magistrate Karel Van Cauwenberghe pointed to the lawmakers in his search for clarity. “A person in possession of 3 grams today, may carry another 3 grams tomorrow. There might be problems for public order after all. Cannabisuse and driving are often a dangerous combination that isn’t taken fully into account. It’s time for some transparent legislation to end all this ambiguity”, states Van Cauwenberghe.
Benny Van Camp, head of the cannabisdesk of the Belgian federal judicial police came up with the numbers that prove the increase of cannabiscultivation. In 2006 48 mediumsized (500 to 1000 plants) and 30 big (over 1000 plants) hempfarms were destroyed. “But the number of destroyed mini-farms (2 to 49 plants) clearly increased the most. Social acceptance of cannabis in Belgium is growing, but still seems lower than in Holland. Our neighbours’ influence in the field of cannabisproduction is enormous. Almost all major cultivation operations are run by Dutch citizens or have other ties to Holland.”
In respect to possible causes for this preference for Belgian territory, Van Camp states: “Dutch regulation has hardened and we do not yet have agreements with other parties, like the powercompanies, to tackle illegal indoor farms. Criminal organizations are not bothered with state borders anyhow. Their power is expanding, and therefore the geographical spreading of risks comes natural.”
The rise in mini-farms busts showed that hempgrowing is becoming a new hobby in quite a few Belgian households. In this respect Joep Oomen (European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, ENCOD) explained the idea behind the cannabisusers association ‘Trekt Uw Plant”. Adult cannabisconsumers can become member for 50 euros while giving the association the permission to raise one female plant on the member’s behalf. “Actually there are no reasons anymore to stick to total cannabisprohibition in Belgium. Our association offers a non-commercial alternative that can be implemented instantaneously. We don’t actually need outlets like the Dutch coffeeshops,” says Oomen.
“Such initiatives might be regarded as ‘encouraging druguse’,” noted Van Cauwenberghe, “which is a punishable crime.”
Mayor Gerd Leers of Maastricht again emphasized the need for international negotiations. “Now every neighbouring countries are blaming eachother, because of the different policies. But this will lead to nothing. Criminals don’t limit their schemes to borders. Euregional deliberation is a necessity and I think we’re on the right track in Terneuzen and Maastricht.Republish